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When you want to learn about dinosaurs that lived millions of years ago, paleontology can help you explore these ancient and extinct animals. Because dinosaurs are no longer living and humans weren’t alive when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, people can learn about them from paleontology. Paleontology is the study of Earth’s history using fossils that give clues about what the world was like long ago. Scientists study fossils with impressions of ancient animals and plants to learn about them.
Paleontologists study fossils to learn about the history of Earth. Archeologists are also scientists who study ancient history, but these scientists focus their studies on human history and the objects humans made during their lives. Sometimes a paleontologist’s study of ancient fossils could overlap into the study of ancient humans because this type of scientist wants to learn about all kinds of life that have lived on Earth, including humans. Usually, a paleontologist’s work focuses on plant and animal life, though, and it does not include learning about human artifacts, or items humans made and used long ago. An artifact could be a utensil used for eating or a weapon used for hunting, for example. Paleontologists and archeologists might work together as they study ancient eras, with both scientists using their knowledge about fossils and ancient artifacts to learn more about Earth’s history.
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Although a person working as a paleontologist typically studies in college to earn a degree, almost anyone can explore like a paleontologist to learn about history. Paleontologists want to answer questions as they study fossils. The first thing they want to learn about is which plant or animal made the fossil and when it was alive. Paleontologists also want to learn about where the plant or animal lived and what the environment was like at the time. While paleontologists study fossils, they also want to learn as much as they can about the Earth’s history. In this way, fossils can be pieces to a big puzzle: The more pieces that scientists fit into the puzzle, the better people can understand what the world was like a long time ago.
A big part of a paleontologist’s job is exploring to find fossils. Fossils can be hiding almost anywhere, including in fields, in creek beds, on mountains, in the woods, and in stone quarries. Anyone with a shovel and a desire to explore can dig in the dirt to look for fossils. A paleontologist takes notes in a special notebook about the places they have explored and the fossils found there. These notes are important because they give clues about the age of the fossils and when and where the animals or plants lived.
While you could begin digging anywhere, a quarry or a creek bed might be the best places to find a few fossils. Use a small metal shovel to dig so you will unearth just small amounts of dirt as you work. Take your time and look through the dirt carefully so you don’t miss any fossils you uncover. It’s common for limestone rocks to have plant fossils in them, so pay close attention to any pieces of limestone you find. Take pictures of your digging area, especially if you do find fossils, to keep track of the places where you found them.
Some universities and museums have classes designed to teach kids about paleontology and the study of dinosaurs. These “junior paleontologist” workshops teach kids about fossils and then host a field trip to an excavation site where the junior paleontologists have a chance to dig with shovels and explore in the dirt. Some workshops also give kids a chance to look at fossil finds in a laboratory to learn more about the animal or plant remains.
Studying paleontology helps people understand what the world was like before humans lived on it and how life on Earth has changed over time. Paleontology gives clues about extinct animals such as dinosaurs. This can help people understand more about the animals that live around us today. Paleontology ties different concepts together, such as extinction and climate change, to help people understand more about the planet today and its future.
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